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Old 09-06-2011
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 647
Default A swimming season (sort of)

Kids' swim teams normally have swimming seasons. For the summer swim leagues (at least where I live), the season lasts less than 2 months. For high school swim teams, it's about 3 months. For YMCA swim teams, it's 5 or 6 months. During those seasons, the kids have an intense schedule of practices combined with regular meets (usually once or twice per week), but all of that ends once the season is over.

I began swimming competitively as an adult, so I've never really had a swimming season. Masters meets are virtually all invitational (i.e., you pick and choose which ones to participate in), and they are spaced throughout the year in a somewhat haphazard manner determined by when meet organizers decide to schedule them.

I've always wondered how this has affected me as a competitive swimmer. But I may have gotten a taste of it this year. For some reason, all 4 of the meets in my area that I was able to make it to were crammed into 5 consecutive weeks. So for the first time in my life, there was a brief period during which I had a meet nearly every week!

The biggest advantage I can see to this kind of schedule is that it lets you get into a groove of competition.

The first two meets of my entire life were 4 months apart, and I remember that as a result, it was almost like having two first meets. I experienced the same kind of pre-meet jitters, trouble sleeping the night before, etc. at the second meet that I had experienced at the first one. The fastest 50y freestyle time I ever did in competition was set on one of those rare occasions when I had 2 meets spaced only a month apart and swam 50y freestyle in both of them. At the first of those meets, my time wasn't all that impressive, but when I did the same event at the second meet, I was much more relaxed and did a significantly better time.

What I found this year is that there's less pressure doing an event when you know that you're going to get another shot at it in a week or two. Mistakes are much more serious when you know that it's going to be several months before you get another shot at that event! Also, the process of competing, of stepping up on the blocks to do a heat, becomes more familiar when you're doing it on a weekly basis.

The biggest disadvantage is that your practices can't be targeted toward doing a particular set of events at a particular meet, because there's not going to be enough time in a single week to practice adequately for the next meet. In the past, I normally wouldn't do any events during the week immediately preceding a meet that I wasn't going to swim at that meet, but this time, I could only afford to do that at the last practice before the meet.

At my first meet of the year, I swam 50y backstroke, 100y backstroke, and 50y freestyle. None of them were personal best (PB) times, which was a bit of a disappointment, since I'd set a couple of PB times in my first meet of 2010. But I noted that my 50y backstroke time was better than the PB time I'd set in that event in 2005, and my 100y backstroke time was better than the PB time I'd set in that event in 2008. It says something about your progress as a swimmer when you're disappointed by times that would once have excited you! My 50y freestyle time was the most disappointing of the three. I could feel that I lost a lot of momentum on my entry. A perpetual problem that many masters swimmers, including me, face is that it's hard to get pools to let us practice our forward starts.

My second meet of the year was held in a 25m pool. Short course meters is the course I've swum least in competition, and most of my experience with it was done early in my competitive swimming career, so I was hoping to break a lot of new ground on PB times. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up about the meet location. I hadn't realized that there are two pools in northern New Jersey with similar names, and I went to the wrong one! When it was clear that no meet was being held there, I returned home, uncertain of whether I had the date wrong, had the place wrong, or the meet had been cancelled. By the time I figured out my mistake and found the pool, my first 3 events were already over. But I did get to swim 200m freestyle, which was a PB time by definition, since I'd never done the event in a 25m pool before.

At my third meet, I again tried the two 50y events I had done at the first meet, but did 100y freestyle instead of 100y backstroke. I had done a PB in 100y freestyle at my first meet of 2010, and that had been in spite of doing a less than perfect start and muffing one of my turns, so I was interested to see whether I could set another PB in that event in 2011. I did significantly better at both 50y backstroke and 50y freestyle than I had done 3 weeks earlier. My 50y backstroke time was the second best I've ever done, and I missed setting a new PB time in the event by only .15 seconds! My 50y freestyle time was more disappointing, but was still 1.34 seconds faster than I'd done at the first meet of the year. But when I finished my 100y freestyle heat, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw that I had knocked a whopping 4.35 seconds off the PB time I had done in 2010! I had the feeling, during the final length of the heat, of slipping into some kind of groove that I don't normally achieve.

My fourth meet was an all-day affair, with longer distance events in the morning and shorter distance events in the afternoon. The only event I signed up for in the morning was 200y backstroke. For the afternoon, I signed up for 100y freestyle, 100y I.M., and 100y backstroke. I had to sign up for the meet and choose my events more than a week in advance, and I wouldn't have signed up for 100y freestyle if I'd known I was going to set such a phenomenal PB time in the event at my third meet. The afternoon event that I was most enthusiastic about was 100y I.M. For several years, I had been trying unsuccessfully to beat the PB time I had set in the event in 2006, but hadn't been able to come within 4 seconds of that time. I.M. is the event I find to be the most challenging mentally, because pacing is very complex in an event that includes 4 different strokes.

My 200y backstroke didn't go particularly well. I was more than a second slower than my PB time. Because meet attendance was low, I knew that there wasn't going to be much recovery time between events, so I didn't really go all out in my 100y freestyle, since I didn't want to risk being tired for 100y I.M., and since I had already done a PB in 100y freestyle the previous week. In retrospect, I should have just scratched 100y freestyle. But my strategy paid off. I succeeded in knocking a ninth of a second off my previous PB time in 100y I.M.! 100y backstroke didn't go as well. I was about a second faster than in my first meet of the year, but was still 1.65 seconds slower than the PB I had set for the event the previous fall.

The single thing that seems clearest is that there's an advantage to having a swimming season. It's interesting that (except for 100y freestyle) in every event I did more than once, I did better at it the second time around, even though there had been relatively little practice time between meets.


Last edited by CoachBobM : 09-06-2011 at 11:37 AM.
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